Miriam Cheng

My first day at ISF brought me both confusion and excitement. I recall my parents dropping me off in a classroom. There I was, a five-year-old girl, surrounded by strangers, feeling all alone. I remember fear and bewilderment as I watched my new classmates cry for their parents, but also the joy of meeting new friends and the nurturing warmth of my teachers. Above all, I most clearly remember a sense of looming uncertainty regarding my future: all of these feelings swirled in my heart as I wondered what I had gotten myself into. If you were to ask that girl who she was, where she came from, or what she hoped to become, she certainly would have been clueless (as most five-year-olds tend to be). But let her thrive at ISF for thirteen years, playing, learning, exploring… it transforms her into a confident, mature young adult with a clear understanding of her own values and passions.

“The largest of trees grow from the smallest of saplings.” From my first day at ISF, I found that teachers at ISF were committed to teaching us about our roots, by educating us about our history and connecting us to our rich cultural heritage. By the time I reached secondary school, along with our burgeoning understanding of the world came a shift in how we were taught: there was a new emphasis on the roles and responsibilities of a global citizen, and we were thus encouraged to extend our shoots far into the air above. We began exploring farther and farther abroad, taking community service trips to Southeast Asia, conducting research in the United Kingdom, and attending scientific conventions in the United States. Now, as I prepare to head to California for college, I’m confident in saying that my identity remains firmly rooted in Chinese culture, because I once was the smallest of saplings growing in the fertile soil of the ISF Academy.

While chatting with my friends about our upcoming plans, it surprised me just how much we had diverged in such a short timespan: one second, we were those tiny five year-olds chanting《弟子規》in unison; the next, we are fully grown adults, with unique backgrounds, talents, and interests. While I’m interested in exploring a future in STEM, my friends have found their own respective niches, studying the western classics, arts, and social sciences, among other subjects. Outside of academics, there is also incredible diversity in what we do for fun, too, which makes for a fun and dynamic social environment, where everybody brings something different to the table. I attribute this to ISF’s quality as an accommodating and inclusive place, which embraces and fosters talent across all dimensions. Personally, ISF has allowed me to discover a passion for Chinese classics and various STEM subjects, while simultaneously honing my skills as a squash player.

I’m entirely aware that my first day at Stanford will probably bring the same challenges as my first day at ISF: confusion, bewilderment, and great uncertainty. But just as ISF has also brought me immeasurable joy, knowledge, and friendship, college is an opportunity, a new beginning, for which ISF has prepared me well.

As class valedictorian and a proud ISF student from day one, I now stand fully ready for whatever may come, knowing with greater confidence who I am, where I come from, and where I wish to go.

Miriam Cheng (Class Valedictorian)

Stanford University